Seth Jones looked as if he was in disbelief as he discussed the number of opportunities the Blue Jackets missed to save their season.
The Blue Jackets were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4 in overtime in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday. While Jones tried to digest the finality of the outcome, the Columbus defenseman commiserated about how it all could have been different.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t come on the right side of a lot of the big moments,” Jones said. “When we needed plays, we didn’t end up making them and they ended up putting pucks in the back of our net.”
To Jones’s point: Columbus had plenty of chances to change the outcome of the series, beginning with a 3-2 loss in Game 1 that went five overtimes. Needing one goal to win the series opener, the Blue Jackets couldn’t score in just over 90 minutes of overtime, losing when Lightning forward Brayden Point scored 10:27 of the fifth overtime.
Game 5 was also there for the taking. The Blue Jackets led 4-2 with 10:27 left in the third period but couldn’t hold the lead in regulation and lost the game and series when Point scored at 5:12 of overtime.
“A series comes down to a few plays,” he said. “We lose 4-1 but we played a lot better than a 4-1 series. That’s the way it goes. I don’t think it was a lack of effort from anyone in the room.
“We’ve got to keep our heads up. They have a great team.”
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Blue Jackets rallied from being down 2-0 in the first period, and appeared to be in control when Oliver Bjorkstrand scored at 9:33 of the third to give them a 4-2 lead.
“We talked about staying on our toes at that point,” Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson said. “I thought we had a really really good game. Dictated the whole play. Had a lot of good chances. Guys were feeling it.
“But they’re a team that if you take your foot off the gas pedal they’re going to get their chances and they’re going to capitalize.”
The Lightning did exactly that when defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored at 12:01 of the third on Tampa Bay’s first shot of the period. Anthony Cirelli tied the game with 1:38 left in regulation when Point’s pass went in off his left skate.
Captain Nick Foligno said the Blue Jackets’ collapse, and fact that all four losses in the series were by one goal, was out of character and was an experience they need to learn from.
“We’ve found ways to win close games all year long,” he said. “It’s a hard one to take. It was probably our best game. We doubled them in shots. Didn’t get the result.”
The Blue Jackets outshot the Lightning 41-25 in Game 5, which made the loss even more difficult for Foligno to accept.
“I think we’re a team that expected more from ourselves so it’s time to get back to work,” Foligno said. “I hate reflecting being so fresh after a loss, but I believe in this group. I’ve said that from Day 1. The amount of trust and belief we have in each other far outweighs anything else going on in the League. We care about each other.
“Now it’s about finding that next level to become a championship team.”
The Blue Jackets, who swept the Lighting in the first round of the playoffs last season, did win a round in Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
But for coach John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets’ exit from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was far too premature. He doesn’t believe in excuses, and he wasn’t about to offer up any now.
“I’m not going to get into the touchy feely stuff or the moral victories,” he said during his postgame Zoom call with reporters.
“You guys be safe.”